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‘Where i end, you begin’ solidifying contemporary dance prowess in Asheville

Stewart/Owen Dance

Professional dance is here to stay in WNC. Co-founders Gavin Stewart and Vanessa Owen are putting on a new performance Thursday at the Tina McGuire Theatre in the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts called, “where i end, you begin.”

Nick Kepley, the managing director of Stewart/Owen Dance (S/O Dance) chatted with BPR to talk about the organization, what it means for WNC and upcoming performances.

The Q&A from BPR reporter and host Jose Sandoval’s interview with Kepley is below, edited for clarity and brevity.

BPR: What is Stewart and Owen Dance and what was the goal of creating the company?

Kepley: S/O Dance is a project-based professional dance company. ….We're project-based currently because we are not at a point yet where we can employ dancers for a (full-time) 36-week contract. The company was founded in 2017 here in Asheville by Gavin Stewart and Vanessa Owen who are the co-founders, co-artistic directors and a married couple. The company debuted at the Asheville Fringe Festival in January of 2018. A big goal for the company is that we want to make dance that lives here, not dance that leaves here.

BPR: How do you recruit the dancers?

Kepley: Gavin and Vanessa, through our classes that we teach, at the Wortham, they meet local dancers. It's anywhere from a complete beginner, never taken a dance class in your life, all the way through to someone that is dancing more professionally. We also host a summer intensive every year called Delve, which is really aimed at post high school – that transition period between being a student and becoming a professional dancer. That program has brought dancers here from all across the country in the summer. And then we do put out audition notices to different dance networks for people to submit videos.

BPR: What does S/O Dance mean for Western North Carolina?

Kepley: There are many professional dance companies that come through here, that teach master classes here. You can definitely be exposed to good dance in Asheville …The goal for the company first and foremost is to create, we like to say, a sustainable ecosystem of dance here in Asheville that really can allow dancers to make dance their full-time job.

BPR: Can you talk about the newest performance, “where i end, you begin”?

Kepley: The genesis for this work really started last fall when the company had a residency at Trillium Arts in Mars Hill. The total show is about 75 minutes in length. They really wanted to create a cohesive world that evolves throughout the evening. So they're six dancers and the piece begins in this kind of tight, almost apocalyptic-feel world where the movements are very stiff. The garments are kind of constricting but there's something off about it. There's something off-kilter. There's something that's not sitting right with the people of this world. And as the piece progresses, they start to kind of break out of their individual myths and start to see each other and start to soften and listen to one another and interact with one another and then you kind of see what comes from that.

BPR: You mentioned there are six dancers, are any of them from WNC?

Kepley: Yes, so Gavin and Vanessa obviously live here and Megan Jones Medford is from Asheville originally. She's danced with the company almost since it first began – for quite a long time.

BPR: Talk about S/O Dances’ involvement with the internationally acclaimed American Dance Festival at Duke University.

Kepley: If anyone doesn't know about ADF, it is a major focal point of the contemporary dance world. It’s an incredible festival. This year we were lucky enough to be granted a commission through ADF, through their Made in NC initiative, that allows us to create a brand-new work that will debut as part of the main NC program. Only North Carolina- based companies were chosen for this commission, and they'll debut the new work on July 7th at Duke's campus.

BPR: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Kepley: I just can't say enough how excited I am that Gavin and Vanessa are here and by what Stewart/Owen is doing here. I really look forward to this community continuing to be exposed to this level of dance and for us to continue to develop an audience for this kind of dance and for people to see the amazingness of this art form. I also would say about 60 to 70% of our donor base actually are our adult students and I think that that says a lot about their experience with us. We're really building a tight-knit supportive community for contemporary dance here in Asheville.

The where i end, you begin performance runs from Thursday, May 9 through May 19. Times and tickets are available at worthamarts.org.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.